HERO Family Role

hero mom
& of course I can!

PREVIOUS: Childhood Roles

“IF ONLY MY FAMILY UNDERSTOOD ME” by Don Wegscheider, 1979

❧ HERO’s
To provide the damaged family with some self-respect & a semblance of stability, shifting the focus from parental failures to the child’s successes

For Self: to make order out of the chaos, feel useful, make the home bearable, keep anyone from killing themselves or going crazy. Believe if they’re helpful enough, the ‘sick’ parent will be cured

For Family
:  make the family look good & seem ‘normal’ to the outside world, by acting as if the rigid roles don’t exist, & prevent anyone seeing the severe dysfunctionality. Genuine desire to provide a measure of group esteem through their accomplishments

BIRTH ORDER: Usually the oldest child, or the oldest male or oldest female
IN SCHOOL : Get superior grades, teacher’s pet, sports star/ Valedictorian or Prom Queen. Classmates admire, envy or use them as help. Are involved in several extra-curricular activities

Highly regarded, expected to ‘do the right thing”, but may not be praised directly. Held up as a shining example to prove what good parents & good people they are, the one who other relatives dote on

Personal:  Main FOCUS is perfectionism.
Inflexible, extreme need for control of everything, great fear of making mistakes, intellectualize & disregard own emotions

In the Family: Ignore the real issues.
Often forced to take on parental position & responsibilities at a young age, AND be self-sufficient, feel ‘old’ & burdened (“10 going on 40”). Keep household running. Compensate for sick, drunk, depressed, crazy or missing parent’s inability to cope

Can be highly successful, self-sufficient & seem well-adjusted. Seen by non-family adults as trustworthy, conscientious, mature & capable. Have good relationships with authority figures, volunteer often, over-involved in activities. Into everyone else’s business, a know-it-all, may have lots of friends, pets & ‘needy projects’controlling hero

DEFENSES – Main one: Denial
Overly serious, mature & responsible, high achiever.  Very dependent on outside approval & work hard to get it. Also, feel special/ superior, don’t need anyone, compulsive @ cleaning, gathering info, appearance, career….

Confusion, loneliness, guilt, hurt, anger. Extreme shame, shown by compulsivity ‘helpfulness’
• Deny a wide range of emotions, intense sense of inadequacy – fear of being found out as a ‘fraud’, & an over-all sense of failure – mainly for not fixing family’s problems
Trouble with
: being a follower, taking suggestions or advice, asking for help, relaxing, having fun, being spontaneous.  Not allowed to be weak, needy, scared, vulnerable, helpless

• are extremely judgmental of others (but may have learned to be subtle about it), and super-critical of themselves
• are driven to develop ‘better’ lifestyle than family, make lots of money, master a profession, totally invested in getting & keeping success at all cost, have lots of positive hero responsibilityattention but don’t believe or value it
• marry an alcoholic or other ‘problem’ type they can continue to focus on & fix, in lieu of parent
• are cut off from inner emotional life & True Self
• secretly know something’s ‘rotten in Denmark’, but have the hardest time admitting anything needs healing
• will only get help to give up Hero role when emotionally overwhelmed & physically ill from years of stress, have severe substance abuse themselves or a tragedy breaks thru the denial

TO: Be ok with making mistakes, & develop courage to be imperfect, decrease need to be responsible for everyone, learn to concentrate on self instead of accomplishments (Being vs Doing)
BY: Stressing the value & enjoyment of cooperation & sharing, learning to value Self. Help them accept mistakes gracefully, since it’s never about their identity

FROM: “I must stay in control of my feelings”.
“ If I don’t do it, no one will.”
“If I don’t do this, something bad will happen, or things will get worse.”
TO: “I am of value just ‘being’, not only for ‘doing’
“If I don’t do it, someone else will & that’s OK”
“If I don’t do it a certain way,  it’ll be done differently & that’s OK”

• learn to ask for & take what’s needed, accept imperfections & occasional ‘failurs’ to relax, just BE
• let go of perfectionism, need to control & rescuing
• develop ability to listen, follow, be flexible, relax & have fun

• attentive, caring, good listener to others’ troubles, nurturing, thoughtful
• appropriately responsible, decisive, focused, goal oriented, organized, self-disciplined
• Have leadership qualities, can be successful, initiator, loyal, good at motivating themselves & others, study & work hard to achieve

NEXT: Placater Role

9 thoughts on “HERO Family Role

  1. I had briefly sought out a professional to help me untangle my past but I had to stop seeing going due to personal circumstances. Despite that I have been methodically attempting to do the work on my “own”.

    A number of your posts, even these recent “role” posts have tended to spawn the equivalent of an itchy mental rash. I’ve been scratching and using salves with limited success …. 😉

    But lately I have been floored by some MACK truck sized epiphanies. I feel buoyant and clear. Hard to explain but I know good when I feel it, LOL

    I thought I would share and express my thanks.


    • That’s great ! I know how wonderful those ‘aha’ moments are! & yes, you’re experiencing ‘knowledge is power’ & the relief & clarity that comes with it.


  2. is it possible to go between the hero/black sheep role from time to time? I guess I am seen as the black sheep because I actually acknowledge that there is dysfunction in the family….but I guess I am also the hero because I make good money, have a career and graduated college. I havent seen my family in 7 years, due to friction between me and my convert narcissist father. There is another in the family who is about 6 years old who is viewed as the “hero” as well. SHe is an actress/model, and she seems to compete with me to keep that hero role and for me to gain the black sheep role 100%. I also have a very complex personality, so my family doesn’t know really what to label me as. They don’t really know what I’m doing because I don’t tell them anything about me. All they know is that I make decent money and I stay far away from them. So my question is….can you have two roles at the same time or at different periods of time? can the black sheep turn into the hero and vise or versa. This stuff is interesting.


    • Yes, people can have more than one role. Only-children often end up switching between all 4, even moment to moment, depending on the current stressor. But remember, the Scapegoat is not the same as being scapegoated. The latter is done by the family to the child, the former is taken on by the child to ‘save’ the family, usually the most self-destructive parent, so that the parent won’t have to face themselves.

      The Hero has to be perfect, so sometimes switching to being the Scapegoat is a way of relieving that pressure – but it doesn’t necessary mean getting into blatant trouble. It can mean saying mean or inappropriate things, making a fool of oneself, or doing others things to humiliate oneself – but not destroy one’s life – more like causing oneself emotional pain – like shame & self-hate. Then the person has to switch back to being ‘perfect’ to make up for it & the cycle continues.

      Slowly outgrowing perfectionism & self-hate are the key to letting go of the roles.


  3. I am 53, have known something ‘is rotten in Denmark’ for most of my life but it is only in the last couple of years things have crystallised and I am coming to term with my toxic family. Finding your site and your articles on family roles, I now understand my role was not that of the golden child, I was in fact the hero, weighed down with responsibility, I could never truly be me. I was a workaholic and always described as serious, fun was not in my vocabulary. In keeping with other heroes I have managed to build a decent life, however this cannot be said about my sister, my only sibling. Academically gifted, she has never been able to capitalise on any of her strengths. Once I thought she was a scapegoat but I now recognise her to be the lost child and I am heartbroken for her and for the world that has missed all she could offer. Her life spiralled out of control and she now lives a solitary existence in a studio flat in Dutch social housing on a university campus. She is deep in therapy. I have tried very hard to support her but our relationship is fraught, we do not have a healthy bond of sisters, friendship seems impossible. We are estranged again since June. Finding your site and realising I am a hero does help me understand that my support may be coming from a sense of responsibility (accompanied by a big dose of resentment/frustration) and she will have her difficulties with me. I have a question, what kind of relationship might be possible between adult lost child and adult hero child?


    • That depends on whether your sister wants one. All you can legitimately do is pray for her growth & work on healing your Inner Child. She need to travel on her own path & you may (or may not) be on it – at least for now. Acceptance is key.


  4. Thanks for the comment though I should clarify that I have made the choice to cease contact with her. I realised that we were stuck in a pattern of behaviour that was exhausting me. I haven’t given up hope that we can overcome our family dysfunction and indeed we have both worked hard to achieve this, constantly researching and engaging in therapy. The breakthrough for me is understanding that I am not in fact an adult golden child but an adult hero child. Whilst there are similarities there are very important differences. The hero child takes on a level of responsibility for the appearance of the family and tries to give an impression that all is well if they can succeed (and fix the family). From the age of about 7 people remarked I had an old head on young shoulders. My entire inner world was consumed by a weight of responsibility and I took life very seriously from a young age. This created massive anxiety and perfectionist tendencies. I felt responsible for my sister and even though I know she has many difficulties with her mental health, an unconscious level I may well resent her for this and it maybe a factor in how we relate now. I want to change this and am seeking advice on how to do it.


    • The only advice is to work on healing your own wounds – which is thru ACA therapy, 12-Step programs (Al-Anon & ACA meetings), reading the blog & any spiritual path which heals the soul. ============================ Donna M TorbicoHEAL & GROW for ACoAs212-580-9631 BLOG: https://acoarecovery.wordpress.com (1,122 posts)Website: http://www.acoarecovery.com (80+ pages)


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